Tom Jones

Movie review by
Tracey Petherick, Common Sense Media
Tom Jones Movie Poster Image
Oscar-winning adventure comedy has dated sexist humor.
  • NR
  • 1963
  • 129 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Some themes of tolerance and inclusiveness. But there's also casual misogyny and social inequality -- arguably a realistic portrayal of the 18th century time period.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Tom maintains an honest and positive attitude despite being treated badly by some. Sophie is a strong female character who values her independence and has the courage to defy her father. She is kind, principled, and generally wise to Tom's charms. Unfortunately, several other female characters are portrayed as promiscuous or lacking in morals. Meanwhile male characters are portrayed variously as weak, aggressive, pious, judgmental, underhand, manipulative, patronizing, disrespectful, and sometimes downright idiotic.

Violence

Some fist-fighting and one sword fight resulting in bloodshed. Lengthy, frenzied deer hunting scene in which the deer is eventually killed by dogs -- its bloody body is held up with its tongue hanging out. A character tries to hang another from a tree. Brief, non-graphic pheasant-shooting and cock-fighting scenes. Some behavior could be interpreted as sexual harassment. In one scene, a character casually remarks, "Are you frightened by the word 'rape'?"

Sex

Lots of sex references throughout. Couples in bed or in intimate situations -- kissing and groping, often with partial nudity. Suggestive eating scene -- begins seductively, becomes more provocative, ends as a joke.

Language

Frequent use of "bastard," often spoken aggressively. One example each of "filthy slut," "wanton harlot," and "son of a whore."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Frequent drinking and drunken behavior. A group of characters become rowdy and boisterous after drinking at dinner. A character is seen staggering, singing, slurring, and laughing raucously. Some characters smoke. One character sniffs some snuff tobacco and then behaves erratically.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Tom Jones is a multi-award-winning adventure-comedy with dated humor and lots of non-explicit sex references, based on the 18th century novel by Henry Fielding. Made in 1963 and set in the 1740s it aims to poke fun at social norms, gender stereotypes, and weak characters. But today it feels sexist and elitist. Tom (Albert Finney) is presented as a lovable rogue, despite his overt promiscuity and almost killing someone in a sword fight. Women characters are frequently disrespected, patronized, or degraded. There is also frequent behavior that today would be considered sexual harassment. In one scene, a character casually remarks, "Are you frightened by the word 'rape'?" Meanwhile the men are often judgmental, aggressive, or unstable. However, there is a strong sense of spoof and satire. A narrator often mocks the characters, making disparaging references to their flaws and bad behavior. There is a prolonged deer hunt, which results in a deer being attacked by dogs and then held up as a trophy. There are various instances of characters drinking and behaving boisterous. The term "bastard" is used throughout.

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What's the story?

TOM JONES follows the fortunes of the illegitimate Tom Jones (Albert Finney). Raised by a benevolent squire, Tom lives a privileged life in the countryside and grows up to be charming, witty, and popular. He is also an incorrigible playboy. As his story takes him from riches to rags -- and back again -- he enjoys lusty relations with women of all backgrounds and classes. But despite these dalliances, his heart remains forever with his childhood friend Sophie (Susannah York).

Is it any good?

Despite winning four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, this 1963 comedy-of-errors feels old-fashioned and at times thoroughly inappropriate. Finney is fantastic as the cocky but ultimately honorable Tom, while York's performance as the charming but wise Sophie brings much-needed refinement to the whole affair. Considering its age, much of Tom Jones is cinematically brilliant, beautifully shot with some impressive set pieces and clever camera angles. There is plenty of humor throughout, with tongue-in-cheek remarks from the narrator, and endless farcical scenarios.

The director, Tony Richardson, uses techniques like silent movie-style stills and sped-up footage set to jolly organ music. When the actors "break the fourth wall," looking directly at the camera for comic effect, it feels innovative and enjoyably intimate. Unfortunately, despite the quality of the film-making and acting, the genuine laughs and some actual moments of tenderness, the overriding tone of Tom Jones feels outdated. What was once considered saucy slapstick is now bawdy and disrespectful. Objectifying women just isn't that funny anymore.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the humor in Tom Jones. Does it feel acceptable nowadays? How is it different to the comedy we see in modern movies?

  • How are women portrayed and treated in the movie? Discuss gender equality. What changes have taken place in women's rights since the 18th century?

  • How has the traditional family unit changed over the years? Children whose parents are not married are no longer "illegitimate." How else have families become more diverse?

  • Consider the arguments for and against fox or deer hunting with dogs. Why was it banned in the U.K., and how is it still happening?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love adventure-comedy

Themes & Topics

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